The year of 2019 ended, it’s time to get a retrospective about the year readings. I read less than I would like but nevertheless it was a year of wonderful discoveries. Any type of review is tricky. Unless you are an expert on the subject matter, any review says much more about the author of the review than about the subject. What I’m writing here are just a couple of paragraphs about what the books did for me, not trying to put myself on the shoes of any book critics.
You can check my Goodreads profile here.
1984 — George Orwell
The communism experience is forever written in the history of the 20th century (unless the history is rewritten like the author’s dystopia suggests). In the whole century panorama Orwell is one small but unavoidable piece of perspective about some remarkable episodes of the century. His passage in the Spain civil war was market by the communist alliance jobbery and an almost death experience (he was shot in the throat). That experience influenced his most notable works. Animal Farm was my first book from the author, it is a masterpiece satire about the Communist Soviet Union. Reading next a classical like 1984 from the same author was mandatory. Generally dystopias as a genre of fiction is not among my favourite types. What I was most interested was about the projections of the author given his life experience. 1984 was not the most enjoyable reading for me. I found the plot mostly predictable and boring and the world it presents very distant of what we reached, suggesting a completely lack of vision about the future. I don’t say that without acknowledging the modern world is very rich in dystopic potential. In fact it seems Aldous Huxley pictured a much more accurate caricature of the future, 20 years early than Orwell did. Nevertheless in my journey of picturing the 20th century, Orwell will be part of my future readings, maybe next with Homage to Catalonia.
Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success — Adam M. Grant
First a pinch of salt on this. Social sciences are full of confirmation biases and practitioners seem to be more infected by cognitive dissonances than the average Joe. Many compelling theories emerge from snake oil vendors that lack scientific rigor. Those theories come from scam artists or sometimes from honest people that are just incompetent. While I’m not a scam detector specialist in these subjects, Adam Grant seems to me a very legit author that practice what he preaches. This book is somehow inspiring in the way it presents the history of many altruistic personalities that arguably accomplished their success by being genuine Givers. A Giver is someone who truly help others without expecting anything in return. The book is full of personal stories of hugely successful personalities and some very interesting social experiments about altruism. For those that identify themselves as Givers this book offers some vindication and also gives some insight about what may differ between different types of Givers in the pursuit of success. The main idea of the book seems to be in line with the millennial idea of Karma that is virtually represented in any religion since the ancients, from the Greeks to Buddha. Since the ideas of the book are not properly new (it seems the ancients already knew it), it is at least a renewed narrative, applied to business, with some inspiring characters personifying it. It was a very enjoyable read, it put Adam writings on my reading map.
Incerto Series — Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Incerto is a series of 5 books, or as the author says, a book divided in 5 parts: Antifragile, Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, The Bed of Procrustes and Skin in the Game. This is a work of greatness. I risk to be too bold on this, but it is maybe the greatest work of its kind, of the XXI century at least. The main theme is uncertainty, but the domains covered are so vast that virtually any relevant subject the reader can imagine is addressed. The bibliography of the work includes hundreds of references that contributed to this masterpiece of erudition. The author is a modern practical philosopher which combines courage, erudition and a combative spirit against the modern bullshit establishments. Some books have the power of changing the reader with one idea. What I feel reading Taleb is that he does it not with each book, but in every single page. Everyone that is looking for a better understanding of the complex world we live should read Taleb. I’ll reread all his work very soon. Like the author says: “A good book gets better at the second reading. A great book at the third. Any book not worth rereading isn’t worth reading.”
The Birth of Tragedy — Friedrich Nietzsche
I started Nietzche with Thus Spoke Zarathustra that brings a very unique style that I somehow enjoyed. Nietzche philosophy has its roots in the classics, his writings contain a modern glimpse of the ancients and he was appreciative of the hellenic culture. In The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche discusses the history of the tragic form and introduces an intellectual dichotomy between the Dionysian and the Apollonian. My interest on Nietzsche has to do with my interest on the classics, being him a modern classicist and to get a glimpse on the history of modern philosophers. I’m adept of his criticism on Rationalism and modernism and I rejoice with the appeal of Dionysus ideals.
Classic Stoics — Seneca and Marcus Aurelius (Letters from a Stoic, On Shortness of Life, Meditations)
These three books are maybe the most read “stoicism manuals” that survived until our times. They are true manuals of “how to live a good life” and prove that all the fundamental problems of human nature didn’t change in the last millennia. I’m more Seneca than Marcus Aurelius, but both are very valuable reads.
What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars — Jim Paul
Most books focus on success, happy ending stories, etc. Not this one. This is the story of how a trader lost all his fortune and indebted himself and his family in the same year he lost his parents. The story is a wonderful piece about human beliefs and how we are affected by cognitive biases. The subject of the story grown up and got his first professional years thinking on himself as a special one, where everything that happened to him seemed to be blessed. Until reality changed his fortune. There are several lessons to take from this book, one I didn’t forget is the following: In order to succeed you need first to survive (this is also a very important lesson from Taleb from which I found this reference). This is a very enjoyable book.
Iceland — The Little Book of Tourists in Iceland and The Fish Can Sing
In my travels I always like to enrich my experience by reading some local books. It helps me to know a little more about the country and creates a more immersive experience. Maybe the time dedicated to read a book creates some sense of invested effort that tunes the travel appreciation. The first book is literally a little book written to guide tourists in Iceland. It gives some background of the place, talks about the current struggles the locals have, demystify some myths and gives a lot of recommendations. The second is one of the most popular books of the Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness that narrates a story of a young fisherman in the old Iceland.
Mean Genes — Jay Phelan, Terence C. Burnham
This is one of my favourite books, it takes an evolutionary perspective about human behaviour. Our biology evolved during million of years adapted to survival in a context completely different from the modern life. Our ancestors lived in a scarce world where it was a matter of survival for the specie that our genes compelled us to overeat, cheat on spouses and spend the entire paycheck. The authors do an overview about the role of the chemicals that rule our happyness: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphin and how human made things (alcohol, drugs, social networks, etc) take advantage of it to imprison us. It is a book about ourselves, about how genes work and how we can trick them to live a better life.
Dynamic Trading with Weekly Options — Tim Haddock, Ravi Kapoor
After some time studying a bit about options I started to buy some and do some experiences. All my learnings were done in the web and at some point I found the need to search for some books to get some insights. This is a very small book discussing some strategies with option positions, but it is all about day trading which I’m not interested at all. I didn’t invested a lot of time searching for books about this but I’m still looking for learning material more related to my approach, that is to use options to complement a long term investment strategy.
Idea Makers — Stephen Wolfram
The creator of Mathematica, Wolfram|Alpha and the Wolfram language brings us a set of essays about some of the most prodigious figures from the history of science and technology of the last few centuries. The book is an immersive experience to the lives of some of the individuals that helped to shape the the world today. Most of them are linked, in some way, to the history of computer science what gives this particular selection of characters a special interest for anyone interested computer science. The characters list is:
John von Neumann
Leaders Eat Last — Simon Sinek
Simon is one of the most charismatic motivational speakers out there. His videos have millions of viewers and his speeches about leadership are truly compelling. I knew his content for a while before reading this book and I felt something gets lost with his message being passed in paper. Maybe because he is such a good speaker that knows how to engage audience and the book is much weaker doing that. The book has some inspiring personal stories about leadership and he uses evolutionary perspective in his reasoning, but I felt the overall message has nothing new, specially if you already read other books on the subject or even some classics.
How to Win Friends and Influence People — Dale Carnegie
I purchased the ebook to read on kindle and after read it I got the physical version to re-read. This is timeless, the principles in the book proved to endure, it is a solid guide about human relationship. My only regret about this book is not having read it before. After read it I can promise you one thing, if you continue to make enemies, at least it would be crystal clear for you the reason.
Aftermath: Seven Secrets of Wealth Preservation in the Coming Chaos — James Rickards
This book was published in 2019 and it was some kind of music for my ears. I must admit my confirmation biases here as it has lots of confirmations about my personal believes on these matters. My interest about the economy and finance world started in my early adult life with the subprime crises. Since then I started to look for the limits of the current financial system and the inevitability of its remodeling (euphemism here). This book seats on the assumption (that I corroborate) that the monetary expansionary policies that already last for a decade now will lead to the destruction of the current monetary system. The book discusses what are the possible alternatives we have, how the world elites are already preparing for it and how we can be prepared.
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin — Benjamin Franklin
Franklin can be viewed as a prototype of Dale Carnegie principles. The 18th century panorama, the lack of modern distractions (like TV and internet) and the cultural environment make me feel some envy about some aspects of their lives. Benjamin is a figure whose life history deserves a read, his restless life for sure made me note how monotonous and empty modern life style become.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind — Yuval Noah Harari
This book called my attention by its popularity. I’m curious about human history (and pre-history), since boyhood I have read some books about the subject and watched lot of documentaries about it. I had two different feelings about this. First the book is well written and gives a nice summary about most of the relevant human marks, since the first groups of gatherer hunters, the agriculture and first societies to the technology and science revolutions. It integrates the evolutive theories in vogue, the influence of our biological apparatus, the role of science and technology and prepares some framework about future projections. It is about this “futurology”, his vision about the role of technology and science part I disagree. It seems Harari doesn’t get complexity and puts too much faith in science and technology to solve problems that probably are very far from reach. I ended the book with that feeling of being reading an IYI, but nevertheless a compelling one.
Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code — Martin Fowler
This was one of the rare technical books I’ve been reading lately. Since a big part of a developer work is to deal with existing code, and I’ve been particularly involved with major code redesign in the last years, I couldn’t miss this revisited edition of Refactoring from the great Martin Fowler. The book was nothing what I expected, my bad I didn’t any research about it, just ordered it as soon as it got available. The book is nothing more than a catalogue of small code refactoring patterns that can be consulted here. I was expecting something about major redesigns and strategies to deal with it in systems that live in production while being continuous refactored. While these patterns are useful for code maintenance, it is not the type of help I was looking to deal with a live system that serves millions of customers with a 99.999% availability target while performing major redesign.
Gödel’s Proof — Ernest Nagel
In 1931 Kurt Gödel published the paper, “On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems.” His paper proved the incompleteness of formal axiomatic systems (mathematics) demonstrating that some statements within the system cannot be proved. His proof is 26 pages long and is considerate difficult even for mathematicians. This book is an attempt to provide a readable and accessible explanation to the main ideas and implications of Godel’s discovery. The implications for philosophy are profound. Many fashionable tenets are shown to be untenable: many traditional intuitions are vindicated by incontrovertible arguments. This book is a worthing piece for anyone remotely interested in epistemology.
A Treatise on Probability — John Maynard Keynes
Everyone knows Keynes the economist, but what few know is that this book is the foundational work of probability theory, which helped establish the author’s enormous influence on modern economic and even political theories. Bertrand Russell, called it “undoubtedly the most important work on probability that has appeared for a very long time,” and said that the “book as a whole is one which it is impossible to praise too highly.” This work is fundamentally philosophical despite its extensive mathematical formulations. I can summarise my interest on this book by saying that is part of my hunt for gathering arguments against positivism and the limits of inductive logic.